Finally! M-16s! Bye, Bye Kalashnikov!
Pictures from today's "Security Handover" ceremony in Karbala Province (via nahrain.com)--attended by PM Nouri al-Maliki--show a curious sight: Iraqi soldiers carrying M-16s!
It has been recently decided by the US military and the Iraq Ministry of Defense to phase-out the Kalashnikov as Iraq's basic infantry weapon, and to substitute it with the M-16.
The Kalashnikov is a great battlefield weapon, especially suited for Iraq's climate (...lots of sandstorms), but it was, how shall I put it, too cheap-looking. It was a symbol of a defunct Soviet past and the schooling of Iraq's military in the craft of Soviet warmaking. It also made no distinction between the legal military and the insurgency; both sides carried the Kalashnikov.
Sticking with the Kalashnikov was a bad decision that was taken early in the Iraq war. The roots of this decision go back to a debate around the time when people thought that the Clinton administration would really implement the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998; should Iraqi freedom fighters be equipped with surplus M-16s? Well-meaning American ex-generals advising the Iraqi opposition at the time suggested sticking to the Kalashnikov because Iraqis already knew how to use this weapon and the ammunition for it was abundantly available, and because it would not "out" the insurgents--that is, the opposition at the time.
Substituting the Kalashnikov for the M-16 is very symbolic: it is a visible psychological break with the past in terms of military doctrine. This is the new Iraqi Army: the first army of the 21st century that's being schooled, by necessity, in counter-insurgency, and being deployed in all-too-real maneuvers against a virulent and hitherto-unseen post-modern insurgency that shall be the model for future jihadist insurgencies elsewhere, probably nearer to Israel and nearer to the Persian Gulf oil wells. At the next outbreak, Iraq's military know-how will be in great demand, turning Iraq into a regional power.
Remember, you heard it here first.
One more thing: in a decade's time, the Iraqi military will likely be tasked on behalf of the world's economies to fight Wahhabi-inspired jihadists in the Persian Gulf basin. So it was make sense for the US military to leave behind the bulky equipment that's proven useful--the armored Humvies and Strykers, the BFVs, etc.--as hand-me-downs when it withdraws from Iraq. Should matters go down the toilet in Saudi, who is the world going to ask for help? The Iranians? The Qataris? Certainly the Marines can't roll-up on the shores of Dammam without further inflaming Islamic sensitivities. Who ya gonna call to bust the Wahhabis? Last time around, the Ottoman Empire called upon Muhammed Ali's resurgent Egypt of the early 19th century. Nowadays and into the foreseeble future, it's an open question as to who would Egyptian soldiers rather take orders from, Gamal Mubarak or Ayman Zawahiri? So, that leaves the Iraqis--a nation with several past and present scores to settle with the Wahhabis. Iraq's current and future rulers also happen to be the co-religionists of the people who live around the oil-wells, Saudi Arabia's 2 million-strong Shiites.
Moreover, the jihadis may inherit Saudi Arabia's decades-long build-up of western military hardware, so a well-positioned NATO airforce, based in southern Iraq, may be necessary to neutralize this future threat. Just thinking out loud, people. No need to be alarmed.
One last thing: the M-16s are making their debut in Karbala. KARBALA! The most holy of holies for the Shiites, which was sacked and desecrated by Saudi-led Wahhabis in 1802, and continued to be the target of jihadist bombers, usually Saudis, for the last four years. Isn't that poignant?